Birdie was no more than a few days old when she came to APA!.
At 76 grams and no larger than the palm of a hand, Birdie needed to stay nourished and warm.
Birdie was initially placed with a nursing mother, who gracefully took her in like family. Unfortunately, Birdie would not suckle from her “new mom” and her weight dropped too quickly for comfort.
“We try to have kittens nurse from mothers whenever we can,” APA! neonatal kitten program manager, Casandra Mensing, said.
Kitten Milk Replacement (KMR) is a suitable substitute for a mother cat’s milk in most ways. However, only a nursing mother’s milk provides the newborn with certain valuable antibodies that protect against disease.
Given her weight loss, it was essential that Birdie begin regular KMR feedings. These feedings had to take place every 2-3 hours. The same is true for all newborn kittens.
Such regular feedings require the neonatal team to be vast in number and impressive in speed, especially during the busiest summer months when the neonatal program takes in an average of 20-30 kittens each day. In fact, in 2013, APA!’s neonatal team pulled 1500 kittens that would have otherwise been euthanized and provided the lot medical care, regular feedings and a shot at life.
“It’s rewarding work,” Mensing said, “If we don’t do this, [the kittens] will lose weight and… pass away.”
Volunteers and neonatal foster families enter this program with the promise of a challenge and the opportunity to be a critical component of a newborn kitten’s chance at life. The program also offers those involved an inside, in-depth look at an incredibly rare, statistically impressive program.
“During kitten season, the nursery is VIP access only. Public and APA! staff aren’t allowed inside,” Mensing said. Only the elite team of neonatal volunteers.
In short, neonatal volunteers will:
- Undergo roughly one month of training
- Commit to one shift per week for at least three months (the first shift begins at 6:00 a.m. and the last shift begins at 3:00 a.m. so there’s definitely something to fit everyone’s schedule)
- Weigh kittens before and after each feeding during their shift
- Feed each kitten
- Stimulate each kitten to excrete or defecate (a responsibility that momma cat would usually have)
- Follow proper protocol to prevent cross-contamination
It is the work of our neonatal team (who clearly aren’t just handling bottles anymore) that provide kittens like Birdie a hopeful outlook on life. With an unheard of 90% save rate and no facility or service quite like it, this program is a prime example of the innovative, comprehensive work that APA! does for the animal community.
With the busiest season of the year just around the corner, we are actively seeking volunteers and fosters.